Nothing can spark a child's imagination quite like playing outside. A copse of trees behind the house becomes a dark jungle and a beach becomes a source of buried pirate treasure. Outdoor adventure films expand upon this thrill grandly, with stories of characters, often kids, striking out into the wilderness and learning how to survive. After taking your kids for a tromp through the muddy woods, climb into some pajamas, and prime the pump for more outdoor excitement with one of these movies.
Recommended for ages 8 and up; rated G; released 1960
The ultimate family outdoor fantasy. After all, who wouldn't want to build an incredibly elaborate tree house on a tropical island, play with friendly animals, and defend it all against marauding pirates with even more incredibly elaborate booby traps?
The 1960 Disney version of the classic tale is great fun for kids although parents will cringe at some of the stereotypes. (I'd also suggest the youngest son Francis stop trapping every animal on the island for his own personal menagerie.)
Caveats: Stereotypes; troubling treatment of animals; violence (lots of shooting and blowing up, but no blood).
Recommended for ages 8 and up; rated G; released 1975
The Swiss Family Robinson was shipwrecked and therefore didn't have a choice with their outdoor immersion.
In 1975 the Los Angeles family Robinson (get it?) chose to leave stressful city life behind and move out into the wilds of the Rocky Mountains. They didn't have to battle pirates but they did have to cope with plenty of animal attacks and natural disasters to go along with the groovy 1970s message of the benefits of a simpler way of life.
Caveats: Frightening or intense scenes: There are animal attacks that could scare younger viewers although no one is seriously hurt.
Recommended for ages 8 and up; rated PG; released 2008
Scientists help make nature cool and fascinating. Nim's Island starts from that premise with the girl Nim and her scientist dad living on their own private island.
After her dad goes missing in a storm Nim seeks help from an agoraphobic author whose journey from urban shut-in to outdoor adventurer demonstrates the healing power of nature in this contemporary live-action thriller.
Caveats: Frightening or intense scenes when Nim's father is lost at sea and Nim is left alone on the island to fend for herself.
Recommended for ages 8 and up; rated PG; released 1995
When considering good wilderness stories I always think of My Side of the Mountain. Unfortunately, there's not yet a valuable movie version of the book (yes, there's a movie, but it's not that good).
However, there is Far From Home. Although the film is not in any way an adaptation of My Side of the Mountain, its story of a shipwrecked boy and his dog surviving in the Canadian wilderness carries many of the same themes. Self-reliance, practical skills, and the value of knowing how to survive in nature are principles shared by all of the movies on this list.
Recommended for ages 12 and up; rated PG; released 1983
Based on Farley Mowat's book of the same name, Never Cry Wolf is a realistic portrayal of a government researcher's efforts to determine if wolves are a threat to caribou in the arctic.
Field research might not seem like the most enthralling entertainment for kids but this movie, which unfolds with almost no dialogue, is gripping.
Caveats: It's more appropriate for older kids because there are some bloody scenes of animals eating and one of a half-crazy scientist running around the tundra naked.